Unforgettable SA hiking trails

The endangered Cape mountain zebra is
found in the area of the Tierkloof trail.
(Image: Cites)

The rare Mimetes chrysanthus, or Golden
Pagoda, a member of the protea family,
on the slopes of the Gamkaberg reserve.
(Image: Plants of Africa)

A seldom-seen resident of the area – the
African black oystercatcher.
(Image: African national parks)

A lone hiker on the vast sand dunes
of the Oystercatcher trail.
(Image: Oystercatcher trail website)

Janine Erasmus

The Oystercatcher trail near Mossel Bay on South Africa’s southern coast, and the Tierkloof trail in the Gamkaberg reserve are among the world’s thirty most spectacular walking trails. This is according to a new BBC publication titled Unforgettable Walks to Take Before You Die.

The fifth book in the BBC’s Unforgettable series focuses on a breathtaking selection of global rambles ranging from leisurely to arduous in a wide variety of settings and on all the major continents. There are two other walks located on the African continent. These are the hiking trail through the sandstone-dotted territory of the Dogon tribe in Mali, West Africa, and the ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Each walk takes no longer than two weeks to complete, although some are more taxing then others. A stroll through the intricate network of canals in Amsterdam or around the temples of Kyoto, Japan, contrasts sharply with a climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro or a trek through China’s 22-km long Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is believed to be the deepest gorge in the world.

The selection of adventures caters to many interests, from ancient legends and history to religion and nature. Other walks featured in the book are the Yellowstone National Park in the US and Peru’s 45-km Inca Trail which winds through the mountains to the sacred Inca city of Machu Picchu. The Freedom Trail in Boston, a red path leading to sixteen significant historic sites, and a walk along the 32 km of paths on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater estate in Pennsylvania are of interest to history buffs.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is an 11-day trek through the French, Italian and Swiss Alps on a circular route around Mont Blanc. The amazing monasteries of Meteora in central Greece, most of which are perched upon towering sandstone cliffs, are a sight to behold. There are many other fascinating walking trails mentioned in the book, which is illustrated with glorious images throughout its 256 pages.

Homegrown adventure

The Oystercatcher trail wends its way along the southern-most coastline west of Mossel Bay to the mouth of the Gourits river. Not only has the trail featured in Getaway magazine’s top 10 South African hikes but as part of the Ker & Downey Splendours of the Cape safari it has snatched a place on National Geographic’s 2007 list of the world’s best tours.

The trail can be negotiated over three or five days. Luggage is carried by porters. Along the way hikers are sure to spot Southern Right whales, dolphins and sea birds. The trail is named after the African black oystercatcher, an endangered bird. It is said that hikers are more likely to catch a glimpse of a whale than of one of these solitary birds, which find their food among rocks and on the beach. Estimates put the number of African black oystercatchers left in the world at no more than 5 000.

The Tierkloof trail lies in the Gamkas, an isolated mountain range in the south-eastern part of the Little Karoo in the Western Cape province. It lies between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains near the town of Outdshoorn. The name originates in the word gami, meaning lion, which is taken from the language of the Khoekhoen people, the aboriginal herders of the Cape.

The Gamkaberg (Afrikaans, meaning Gamka mountains) reserve, a natural habitat of the endangered Cape mountain zebra, was established in 1974 to help conserve the rare animal. A relatively flat mountain plateau covered with mountain fynbos towers over dry bush below. Deep gorges cut through these extremes of terrain. Lying between South Africa’s winter and summer rainfall regions, the reserve experiences gentle soaking rain in winter and thundershowers in summer.

Gamkaberg is renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life. Here observers can see Cape mountain zebra, leopard, and honey badger, as well as eland, red hartebeest, grysbok, duiker, baboon, caracal and many others. The recently discovered and rare Mimetes chrysanthus, a member of the protea family, is found here.

The six-hour Tierkloof trail, which is actually the first stage of the two-day Oukraal trail, is picturesque and moderately strenuous. Hikers trek up the deep forested Tierkloof ravine up to the fynbos-covered plateau, gaining almost 700 m in altitude. Here they can put their feet up at the Oukraal camp and admire the views of the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains on either side.

Essential travel destinations

The BBC’s Unforgettable series tracks down essential sights and experiences around the world. Seasoned travellers, photographers and writers Steve Watkins and Clare Jones tour the world in a quest to find the most inspiring and exciting travel destinations. The other books in the series are Unforgettable Journeys To Take Before You Die; Unforgettable Islands to Escape to Before You Die; Unforgettable Things To Do Before You Die; and Unforgettable Places To See Before You Die.

For their latest book Watkins and Jones travelled for nine months to 24 countries and took over 60 000 images for the 30 walks featured in the book.

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